Among other things, my friend Denise is a gifted wordsmith, an avid hiker, genuinely funny, and a wonderful photographer. And every now and then (okay almost every day) she writes something that makes me stop and ponder for a good long while over a cup of tea.
The other day she wrote her answers to a question that I found intriguing: “If you could write a note to your younger self, what would you say in only two words?”
I love, love, love, LOVE her answer: You’re Enough.
Two words. Wow. That’s a challenge. I could probably manage a five word limit or even three, but two? What kind of message can you send in the span of maybe a heartbeat? A command perhaps? An entreaty? A question? What two words could I chose? And for which younger self?
To my high school self: “Have fun” or, more to the point, “Lighten up.” Honestly. I took too many things far too seriously, and with reason. I struggled with ghosts and self-worth issues, with expectations and fear. Too often I listened to the lie that I was defined by the expectations, the fear, the past. I forgot I was allowed to have fun once in a while.
High school Carryl also needed to hear “You’re alright”, especially when the ghosts had me convinced I was ANYTHING but all right. I have the scars to prove just how not all right I felt. Would it have made a difference? I don’t know, but my high school self needed to hear it just the same.
I also would say to her “Tell stories.” I was surrounded by English teachers who encouraged me to write, but I couldn’t hear them. My love of words, of story, of poetry and metaphor and imagery felt too much like liabilities, something else to be teased about. I was telling the stories anyway. To myself. Where no one could hear. Didn’t that count? Well, yes, it did, but I believe there were others who needed to hear the stories I told myself in secret. Something I have learned about this writing gig over the last year is that it isn’t all about me.
To my college-aged self, I would say “Don’t wait.” I wasted a lot of time waiting for other people to make good on their promises to me and squandered a lot of potentially exciting opportunities because of it. “Don’t wait” reminds me that promises are just words until they are acted upon, and if an opportunity for something marvelous presents itself, I need to grab hold of it and wrestle that pig into submission.
Kind of a corollary to “Don’t wait” would be “Join in.” Now, I am a classic introvert. Joining in is not my native language, it isn’t my second language, and I am far from fluent in it, wherever it happens to land on the list. The waiting meant I only rarely allowed myself to participate beyond the lecture hall. The friends I have from my collegiate days, I made outside of school. I have no college friends at all, no sense of camaraderie from having shared experiences with a bunch of rowdy Freshman and no, getting beaned in the head by a 16 ounce cup of beer in the student section at Folsom Field during a CU v. Oklahoma State game does not count as a shared experience. The journey is so much more fun when you have companions to share it with.
To my kiddo self – oh wow. Oh, the things I would love to say to her.
Oh dear God, what I would have given to have heard those words whispered over me.
Can I distill all this down into two words? Believe it or not, I can.
Be free from the mantle of expectations others have settled around your shoulders. They reflect the frustrations, fears and focus of others, not the light that shines in your own soul.
Be free from the pain and the ghosts and the fears of the past. They don’t define you and they never did. The only power they have is that which you give them. They are nothing but small-minded bullies and if you stand up to them, they will run away, squealing like the cowards they are. It isn’t easy, and you may have to fight them off more than once. Do it anyway.
Be free from the presumptions of who and what you are. People will think they know what matters to you, what makes you who you are. They might come close from time to time but they’ll still be wrong. Let your freak flag fly high and proud and then be prepared to see some minds blown, especially your own.
My family, friends, fellow nerds, geeks, wordsmiths, image wranglers, and misfits, I wish this for you, too. Be free from everything that says you can’t. Be free from the fetters you place on your own souls. Be free to embrace responsibility from a place of love. Not because you’re obligated to do this or that, but because love gives you the freedom to say “I want to” and “I will” rather than “I must” and “I ought.” Be free to love and live fiercely and well.
Be free to be your most awesome bad-ass selves because that’s what I love best about you.
Oh, and please do yourselves a favour and go check out Denise’s blog, Randomocity, at denisebennorth.blogspot.com. It’s a treat not to be missed!